After a short break, @Lovinglallana is back with the fifth instalment in her Backroom Staff series where she takes a closer look at goalkeeping coach John Achterberg. This article was made possible with the help of Dutch journalist @Tomvanhulsen and his exclusive interview with Achterberg, which was translated by LFC Transferroom’s Netherlands correspondent @ChrisvLFC.
Not everyone in Jürgen Klopp’s backroom staff is a new face. John Achterberg is a highly regarded member of the club who has been working there almost a decade, under four different managers.
The journey to Liverpool
The Dutchman joined Liverpool’s backroom staff in 2009 after more than 10 years as a player and goalkeeping coach at neighbours Tranmere Rovers. He was brought to England in 1998 from Dutch side FC Utrecht by Liverpool legend John Aldrige himself.
“Back when I was a goalkeeper at Tranmere I started my own goalkeeping school,” Achterberg said. “Then in 2009, Liverpool were looking for a goalkeeping coach at the academy and that’s how I ended up here.”
“This was during Rafael Benítez’s era. Later he was succeeded by Roy Hodgson, who wanted to take Mike Kelly with him from Fulham but negotiations took longer than expected so I was temporarily moved to the first team during pre-season.
“When Kelly finally joined, Roy wanted me to stick around the first team and that’s how I ended up there. Later Kenny Dalglish, Brendan Rodgers and Jürgen Klopp came and every time I had to wait and see if I could stay.
But in the end they all wanted to work with me, so I must be doing something right.”
Working with Jürgen Klopp
When Jürgen Klopp took over at Liverpool, he was very careful with who he would bring with him to Anfield and who he would keep. Klopp spent some time deliberating over his options but chose to keep John Achterberg stayed because he rated him very highly.
Klopp said Achterberg’s dedication to improving as a coach and strong work ethic was what encouraged him to keep Achterberg with the club.
“What can I say about John,” Klopp said. “I’ve never met a guy like him! He is a goalkeeper coach 24 hours a day!”
That’s not always nice, actually, because if you want to talk to him about anything else, he can lead every conversation in a goalkeeping direction. He’s one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met.”
The respect and appreciation are mutual. In Achterberg’s interview with Tom van Hulsen, he described what it is like to work with Jürgen Klopp.
“Klopp is a communicator, someone who puts you at ease very quickly. The first time he walked in he was talking to me as if he had known me for years,” Achterberg said.
“He once told me ‘I wasn’t sure about us at first, a German and a Dutchman working together but I’m very happy to have you now”, that was very nice to hear.
“The trust in Klopp is massive here and I have to say, I’m very confident of it as well. He signed a 6-year deal when he came here and what I like very much about him is how he conveys his passion to the players. I believe the players are prepared to make an extra step because of it.
“Klopp also doesn’t care about the name on the back of the shirt, Klopp will always make his selection based on the opponent of that day.”
Achterberg’s philosophy, training ideas and methods
What Klopp said more as a joke is actually the truth and Achterberg admitted it himself.
“I am passionate about goalkeepers and I could talk about it all day,” he said. “Finding goalkeepers, creating and shaping them, that’s what I like the most. I occasionally drive people mad, I analyse goalkeepers all over the world.”
During his time at Liverpool, there have been a number of people quick to criticise but only a few know the work that goes on behind the scenes.
There are hours of training on-field people see via club photos but what they don’t see is the preparation that goes into planning and implementing those exercises. The additional time that is taken to debrief with the players after every game.
“I’m independent as goalkeeping coach,” Achterberg said. “The whole staff talks to each other of course but we are free to do our work like we want to. I try to develop all-round goalkeepers.”
“I want them to be able to kick the ball well with both feet, to read a match and in-game situations, be well positioned at all times and physically strong enough to handle all situations. Being a goalkeeper isn’t only about stopping shots, it goes way beyond that.
“Three days before each game we have an opponent meeting, I have two analysts working for me. One to analyse our own games and the other one to analyse our opponent. I’m very glad we now have a separate analyst department with a sole focus on goalkeeping.
“During the meeting,s we discuss things like our opponents’ free kicks, penalty kicks, if and how they apply pressure, corner kicks and who they sent into the box on these occasions.
“And after our own games we get a report about how our goalkeeper performed and we discuss this with each other and after that with the goalkeepers.”
Alisson addition a chance to respond to critics
John Achterberg has received a lot of criticism whenever Mignolet or Karius have had faulty performances but we should sharpen our gaze again for the fact that he plays an incredibly important role in the team with the unwavering respect of Jürgen Klopp.
Not only does Klopp know best which coaches are most suitable for achieving his goals but it is also crucial to know what someone is actually doing before you can engage in any kind of discussion.
The highly anticipated addition of Alisson in the off-season means Achterberg finally has a world-class keeper to work with. This is a big step in his career as a coach and a chance to silence the critics.
It’s been a long time since Liverpool had a goalkeeper for Alisson’s quality and Achterberg’s role in nurturing that talent will be highly scrutinised. But if the first 10 games of the season are anything to judge by, it seems Alisson might be the player the Red’s have looked for since the departure of Pepe Reina.